The long speak: The show of Scots as abolitionists and radical champions has disguised a long history of advantaging from bondage in the Caribbean. By Yvonne Singh

The mangrove-fringed coast of Guyana, at the north-eastern tip of South America, does not immediately bring to mind the Highlands of Scotland, in the northernmost part of Great Britain. Guyana’s mudflats and silty brown coastal water have little in common with the luxuriant light-green mountains and glens of the Highlands. If these landscapes share anything, it is their remoteness- one on the edge of a former empire burnished by the relentless equatorial sun and one on the leading edge of Europe beat mercilessly by the Atlantic winds.

But look closer and the links are there: Alness, Ankerville, Belladrum, Borlum, Cromarty, Culcairn, Dingwall, Dunrobin, Fyrish, Glastullich, Inverness, Kintail, Kintyre, Rosehall, Tain, Tarlogie, a join-the-dots list of placenames( 30 in all) south of Guyana’s capital Georgetown that suggestion of a veiled association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.

As a child, I knew low levels of my parents’ region Guyana. I knew that it was part of the British West Indies and the only English-speaking country in South America. I knew that my mothers, as part of the Windrush generation, had answered the call for labour in postwar Britain. My father, aged 19, travelled by ship from Trinidad in 1960 and experienced a long career with the Royal Mail; my mother arrived by airliner a couple of years later, to work as a harbour at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.

I had seen Guyana just once at nine years old( our only plane vacation as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My recalls of that time are fragmented and rather strange: the sear hot; the inclination of beings to douse themselves with Limacol (” breeze in a bottle “); the glossy rubber leaves the size of dinner plates that were used to serve sticky balls of rice at the wed dinner; the constant nag of insects- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, flies- magnified in length and more wicked than any I’d seen in the UK; the agony and dishonour of going sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt searching demure in a white-hot lace wedding dress for the Christian wedding ceremony, then changing into a Lakshmi-like vision in a red-and-gold sari for the Hindu nuptials.

For this was and is a country that feted all beliefs- Christian, Hindu, Muslim- all features of a colonial past that involved the forced movement of people across continents to a life of bondage and indenture. Those parties later terminated and seen Guyana their dwelling, so it is known as the estate of six families, with parties of African, Indian, Chinese and European ancestry, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race radical, obligating up its population.

The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over season: it was something to do with the British, something to do with slavery, but that was all that was shared. Decades later the Guyanese-American journalist Gaiutra Bahadur publicized the seminal book Coolie Woman, which brought much insight, but there have been few other conspicuous wreaks. Guyana doesn’t feature in the history books or the curriculum in Britain.

This is astonishing when you think that the British had such a role to play in that nation’s birth and how central that colony was to the United Kingdom’s industrial affluence and increment in the 19 th century. Unlike the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, it is possible that Guyana’s unique geography( being attached to the South American mainland) has interpreted it and its history all but invisible from the collective British consciousness. Perhaps fittingly, it was the muse for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

I am standing on a crest cluttered with dried grass and needles on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a expanse of burnished steel, is the fabled ocean. I watch as puffy clouds tow shadows across its face. North of where I stand is Dochfour House and Gardens, a sprawling, sandy-coloured, Italianate mansion, the ancestral residence of the Baillie family , now owned by Alexander Baillie, after the death of his father- the eccentric Lord Burton– in 2013. The late baron was a hands-on estate owner and guarded his estates fiercely up until his death- one narration has him coercing a car bonnet down on the hand of a deliver motorist “whos been” the temerity to examine his car locomotive near the enter of the property.

Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive mansion defendants” and corporate happens. Clients can spend time in the grand mansion, or experience shooting, fishing and sailing in the extensive grounds.

It’s an impressive bequest, even more so when you be understood that the Baillies of Dochfour were leading” West Indian shopkeepers” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, actively engaged in the slave trade and the ownership of orchards in the Caribbean. Brothers Alexander and James, along with their cousin George, started trading in St Kitts and Grenada as Smith& Baillies in the 1760 s. Their substantial interests spread to include orchards in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

When the soils of its neighboring islands had been employed, excursions into Guyana portrayed more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies established a number of orchards there, with this colony yielding substantial revenues even after the abolition of slavery.

Stabroek marketplace in Georgetown, Guyana. Photograph: benedek/ Getty Images

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 didn’t simply bring an end to chattel slavery, the committee is also balanced Britain’s 46,000 slave owners for the loss of their “property”. As Guyana’s plantations were mostly involved in sugar-making, and carbohydrate boilers dominated a compensation figure of PS100 compared with that of PS18 for an unskilled field worker, the Baillies and other plantation owners were heavily compensated for their estates in Guyana.

Consequently, the Baillies received a total of PS110, 000( equivalent to around PS9. 2m today) seeks compensation for the 3, 100 slaves they lost, which they invested in a Monopoly board of estates from all the regions of the Highlands, ensuring that they and their progenies would become one of the largest property proprietors in the countries of the north of Scotland, largely thanks to the profits of slavery.

I meet with historian David Alston in Cromarty, a small town in the Highlands that sits at the mouth of Cromarty Firth. Comprised of simply a few cases streets, the city boastings a fortune of Georgian and Victorian architecture and its fair share of chi-chi outlets, catering to the American and Canadian tourists who visit the arena eager to seek a piece of Highland ancestry.

Alston explains that there are 13 different websites in this tiny place that have a link with slave plantations- mostly in Guyana. He says:” If you lived in the Highlands in the 1800 s, you would know about Demerara and Berbice[ in Guyana ]; beings would talk about coming home’ as rich as a Demerary man ‘.”

It’s hard to process that a network of Scotsmen from here and the surrounding area utilized Guyana as a “get-rich-quick scheme”, manipulating for profit the trafficked humen( both slaves and indentured labourers) who were my ancestors. A “gold rush” with no thought of the lamentable human consequence.

As I wade through research and tributes of the destinies of slaves in Guyana, it’s difficult to suppress the temper I feel: up until 1826( nearly two decades after the obliteration of the slave trade in 1807 ),” the 11 o’clock flog” was administered in Berbice’s searing heat to men and women who pennant in their tasks; sexual abuse was so endemic in the same district that, in 1819, one in 50 of the enslaved person was “their childrens” or grandchild of a white-hot European.

What is also astonishing is that the person or persons I speak to in Guyana don’t seem aware of this is connected with the Highlands. I speak to an older cousin who grew up in Guyana but now lives in the US.” We were schooled about Cuffy[ a rebel slave governor ] and the slave resistance of 1763 ,” she recounts.” But the slave trade wasn’t discussed .”

A bronze of Cuffy, the slave rebellion governor, in Georgetown, Guyana. Photograph: Krystyna Szulecka/ Alamy

I tell her about Cromarty and she chortles at the pronunciation of a well-known place from her childhood, near Cotton Tree in Berbice.” You know Aunty Florence’s mother, Big Mama, was half-Scottish ,” she says.” We all used to wonder why she was so white and so much bigger than us, but then one day Granny told us that her father was a Scotsman .”

She then recalls a troubling story.” Granny said that the Indian wives would be working out in the rice fields and it was then that most of the abuses would take place. No one would hear them shriek … “theres only” nine months later that they had to deal with the consequences .”

The Baillies were part of an Inverness network of Scots, including the Frasers, the Inglis family and the Chisholms, who had substantial orchard interests in Guyana. However, slave ownership wasn’t confined to the prosperous: everyday working people had a chance to buy slaves too. Alston has gathered a comprehensive index of more than 600 parties from the Highlands with connections to Guyana before emancipation.

He says:” Guyana offered some the prospect of making a fortune, even for those of limited means, if they were prepared to start work as clerks, superiors and tradesmen. The key to success was to own slaves .”

Alston illustrates:” It was a weird coincidence that so many parties from the Highlands gone over. Plantations hired all sorts of beings: carpenters, gardeners, bookkeepers and doctors were needed. Scotland had a good educational system and the population was mobile. Tacksman[ prinicipal tenants in Highlands after landowners] conducted immigrations and looked for opportunities .”

Despite Guyana’s distance and dangers( many Scots succumbed to yellow delirium ), the wage was seen as worth the risk. The advantages were many, there were people returning from Guyana buying land and estates and improving farms in Scotland, and the orchard economy likewise fuelled industrial wealth.

Alston states:” The subsistences of some of the poorest people in Cromarty depended on what was going on in the Caribbean. There is a red sandstone structure near the harbour which was established in the 1770 s as a proto-factory: it imported hemp from St Petersburg and utilized 250 parties and 600 out-workers- more than the population of Cromarty now- to produce cloth to become handbags and sackings for West Indian goods .”

The economic benefits of slavery had a trickle-down effect on every part of the Scottish economy: there was a boom in herring fishing in the Highland lochs, as this salted-down fish was a major export to the Caribbean as a protein-rich source of slave nutrition. Similarly, in the Outer Hebrides, numerous employees were employed in the manufacture of rough linen, known as slave cloth, for exportation to the colonies. In reality, Cromarty advantaged so much better from the slave traffic, it was one of the towns that petitioned against its abolition.

Highlanders also have the questionable commendation of pioneering the first shiploads of Indian indentured labourers to Guyana shortly after the obliteration of bondage. John Gladstone( a Guyanese planter and leader of the future British prime minister, who received PS1 06,769 in compensation, the equivalent of about PS9m today) wrote to Francis Mackenzie Gillanders of Gillanders, Arbuthnot& Co in Calcutta, soliciting a new root of cheap and easily restraint labour.

Gillanders had already sent Indians to Mauritius under five-year sickens and was keen to fulfil Gladstone’s request. He realized no rigor with the new drafts, showing they have” few craves beyond ingesting, sleeping and sucking”, referring to the” mountain coolies of India” as” more akin to the monkey than the man”, unaware of” the place they agree to go to or the journey they are undertaking “.

The arrival of the ships Whitby and Hesperus in Guyana in 1838 would presage the movement of more than half a million Indians to the Caribbean to work under overseers in the sweltering orchards, until the end of the practice in 1917.

What is outraging, given the extent of the involvement of Highland Scots in the history of Guyana, is the way their role has been airbrushed from record. Not numerous Scottish people would have a clue where Guyana is or of its importance to their own nation’s industrial growth.

Scots ought to have portrayed as abolitionists, reformers and liberal endorses, so David Livingstone is remembered fondly, as is Scotland’s role in abolition, while the slave-owning houses of Sandbach Tinne, John Gladstone, HD and JE Baillie, CW& F Shand, Reid Irving and others are referred to euphemistically as” West Indian sellers “.

Unlike in Liverpool, Bristol or London, there is little acknowledgment in Glasgow of public builds funded by the slave trade. Buchanan Street, Glassford Street and Ingram Street are appointed after notorious slavers, but there is no mention of this in the city’s history.

” The experiment I was doing in the 1990 s felt very lonely ,” says Alston. He recalls the opening of the National Museum of Scotland in 1998.” Despite big segments devoted to Scotland and the world, “theres not” a mention of the slave trade or the slave-based plantation economies, which supported the rise of Scotland’s industrialisation. The fib sits extremely uncomfortably with the narrative that people want to tell about Scotland and Highlanders .”

Alston explains that Scotland’s own historical grudges, specifically the Highland clearances( when tens of thousands of Highlanders were forcibly dispossessed from their homes to make way for large-scale sheep farming ), make it unable to confront the past. He says:” If you had wished to depict yourself as a scapegoat, the last thing you want to do is be the victimiser, and it is difficult for that to change because it is so embedded in the Scottish view of itself and the Highlands consider of itself.

Cromarty graveyard in the Highlands, where some Scottish slave owners are immersed. Photograph: Calum Davidson/ Alamy

” In Sutherland county there is a monumental to the permissions funded by a Canadian whose ancestors were cleared[ the Emigrants Statue ]. The color on the inscription is very much that the Scots enlightened the nations of the world. There was talk of putting replica effigies up in all the places that Scots went to … I wonder if they will put one up in Georgetown, Guyana .”

Helen Cameron, who now lives in Australia, saw both Cromarty and Guyana in an attempt to trace her beginnings. Helen is related to the Camerons of Glen Nevis: John Cameron, her enormous, enormous, great-grandfather, came to Berbice in the early 1800 s and set up a plantation with his kinsman Donald Charles Cameron. Accountings of their experience there include shipments of coffee, cotton, rum and carbohydrate, and the sale and hire of slaves. John Cameron had a relationship with Elizabeth Sharpe,” a free coloured lady”( a offspring of slaves) and they had seven juveniles. The couple’s five sons all emigrated to Australia, while the daughters remained unmarried.

Helen drafts by email:” It will seem strange that I did not stimulate the academic associate of being a descendant of a plantation owner as too being a descendant of a slave owner. I was slightly taken aback when the manager of the inn where we stayed in Guyana said,’ This is the first time I have met the successor of a slave owner .'”

She continues:” I had known that the family had orchards, but I do confess that until this research I had not considered who really laboured these plantations. I was also ignorant of Britain’s dependence on slavery.

” I hope my ancestors were benevolent slave owners ,” she makes.” I do not like to think they were inhumane, although there is, as one person in Guyana said,’ Why would you think otherwise ?'”

Scotland’s character in territory does not belong in the margins or footnotes: Highland Scots had a huge role to play in the large-scale trafficking of human beings for profit. I believe that nonetheless unpalatable this history is, it is a shared one, and contributes to our understanding of race and how the two movements of people from long ago fits with our story now. To overshadow these facts is to rob individuals of their legends all over again, and to repudiate them any sense of belonging or home in the world.

Today, any measures were being made to acknowledge Scotland’s slaving past: there is a campaign to establish a museum of bondage, and for monumentals and plaques to go up across the country on effigies, streets and dwellings linked to the slave trade. In September 2018, Glasgow University produced a report revealing that educational institutions helped immediately from the slave traffic, despite its leading role in the abolitionist motion- receiving bequests of virtually PS200m in today’s money. The university has now propelled a” reparative justice programmes” that will involve the creation of a centre for the study of slavery as well as a its partnership with the University of the West Indies.

In Cromarty’s graveyard, the mid-morning sun slants across the gravestones pockmarked with moss and lichen, crystallizing the swoon inscriptions. The bronze of Hugh Miller, the town’s famed geologist and scribe, perched Nelson-like on a high column, overlooks the vistum. I speak the carved terms on one crumbling grey stone that has sat in this cemetery for more than 150 times. It says:” John Munro late of Demerara .” Less clear is “Berbice” on another stone. A merely 20 miles south-west of this cemetery, at Gilchrist near Muir of Ord, is an ornate mausoleum containing the well-preserved tomb of Gillanders- he of the far-famed monkey paraphrase. One truth remains: nonetheless hard-boiled we try to cover over our past, it rarely stands buried.

This is an edited version of a piece that was first are set out in adda , a publication run by Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation

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